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Tuesday November 24th, 2009


VISION'S JOSEPH MCDERMOTT TRAVERSES THE GENDER GAP WITH A TENTATIVE FORAY INTO THE WORLD OF UNIVERSITY NETBALL... came into fruition. The training session, we were told, would start with an hour of fitness and then an hour of netball practice. Within mere minutes of starting both Lund and I had broken into an uncontrollable sweat. We gasped for breath and struggled through the rest of a demanding fitness session led by the club’s own Sarah Fisher. The exercises seemed very appropriate for Netball with an emphasis on balance, stamina and strength training. It was a level of professionalism that I’ve rarely encountered in university sports teams. After speaking to president Elizabeth Cowell it was obvious where this professionalism comes from: this is an ambitious bunch of girls. When asked what the best and worst aspects of the game are she was quick to answer ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ respectively; this was clearly a group of girls who played to win. Cowell cited their Roses win as her club’s greatest achievement and assured me that all three teams will be pushing for promotion this season. The fitness session was followed by a series of practice matches which the girls graciously let us join in. Teams have seven players, each with their own specific job and areas of movement. I took the GA (goal attack) which I assumed was a link up role

between GS (goal shooter) and C (centre) while Lund was given WD (wing defence), a position he felt to be ‘lacking in glory’. As the game started we were left bewildered by the speed of the sport, one lapse of concentration and the game could move from one end to the other. My confusion was never more obvious than when I caught the ball and in among the shouts of ‘shoot’ I panicked and lobbed the ball about five foot over the top of the net. Sadly this was just one of my many horror misses, and after seeing the seeming ease at which GS Claire Dinan could find the net I realised that netball is deceptively difficult. With the firm guidance of Centre Becky O'Dwyer, Lund and I were able to pick up the basics and move about the court without getting under everyone's feet. I even scored a goal! There is something wonderfully British about netball, the fast and furious pace in the middle of the park contrasts with the no-contact ruling and creates a sport that has all the virtues of passion without the problems of aggression. There is so much more to it than first meets the eye and to accuse it of being nothing more than a 'softer' version of basketball is to do the sport a great disservice; netball is a stirring mix of speed and skill.


NETBALL, DESPITE IT'S reputation, is a fast-paced and highly technical test of skill, balance and endurance. Only a fool would call netball a girl’s sport. Until earlier this week I was that fool. It’s no surprise that I had no real concept of netball. I spent my formative sporting years outdoors, segregated from netball and braving the cold northern winters with the other lads. We would wade through the mud and snow all the while casting jealous glances towards the warmth of the school sports hall where the girls would seemingly stroll around the netball court without so much as breaking a sweat. It looked like such an easy ride. When it was suggested that I take part in a UYNC training session in preparation for my article I was unfazed. My contact on the team suggested that it was going to be ‘a lot of work’ and that I should take a friend for ‘moral support’. After ringing around the Vision team (most of whom were busy, did they know something I didn’t?) I was finally able to convince Halifax football captain Mark Lund to join me, he too was a netball virgin (understandable given his Rotherham upbringing). As we walked towards the sports tent we discussed the possibility of hitting the gym after the session. I think it’s needless to say that these plans never


AS A CHIEF Football Writer of Britain’s top selling and most widely read newspaper, the influence Shaun Custis wields over the world of football means his work is read by players and managers as well as millions of football fans. In reference to both himself and his brother, Neil, also a sports writer for The Sun, Alex Ferguson once remarked that 'there are too many fucking Custis’ in this world' (after Neil was mistakenly banned from Old Trafford for an article Shaun had written). But such heated reaction comes with the territory for Sun journalists. My naivety had led me to believe that working for a newspaper like The Sun surely meant that the big sports stories would be easier to access and information easier to acquire, but my assumption couldn’t have been further from the truth. 'It is the opposite,' Shaun tells me, 'When managers and players speak to The Times or The Guardian they think they are going to get an easy ride. But when The Sun rings 'WALLY WITH THE up they often run a mile, a call from us BROLLEY' AS THE can make people jump.' Previously a writer for The People SUN FAMOUSLY DUBBED MCLAREN and Sports Editor at the Daily Express, Shaun Custis is used to being a point

of criticism for players and managers. Sir Bobby Robson famously invited Shaun down to the Newcastle United training ground to explain his comments after he had written an article in which he noted that Newcastle needed four changing rooms at St James’ Park to cater for the number of different cliques within the squad. As a Geordie, he was surprisingly unhurt by Sir Bobby’s attack.

"THE FANS COMPLETELY TURNED ON MCLAREN... IT WAS VICIOUS" 'You have to have a thick skin. You soon realise that people will attack you, that people will ridicule you on radio and television. Sir Bobby had a different view on things that I did, that’s just different interpretations If you believe that what you’ve written is correct then you can handle the criticism.' It isn’t just managers and players then that have to shake off criticism. 'Gordan Strachan can make you look stupid at press conferences and Managers like (Sir) Alex Ferguson will know everything that’s being written about him and his team in every newspaper by 8am and you have to deal with that. I know Rio Ferdinand very well and he has got a lot of stick of The Sun in the past and he understands... he doesn’t like it, but he understands that’s just the way it is.'

And that is the way it has been for a host of players and managers in recent years. One cannot fail to forget The Sun’s treatment of Steve McClaren during his reign as England manager, calling him such names as ‘Maccy Mouse’ and ‘the Brolly Wally’. For Custis however, it all boils down to whether newspapers lead or follow public opinion. 'We often get criticised for getting stuck into a manager, but it’s often nothing compared to the stick he’s getting of the fans. One of the most uncomfortable games I have ever been at was when England played away in Andorra under McClaren and we were drawing 0-0 at half time. The fans completely turned on McClaren and it was vicious. As a journalist hanging around the England camp you can see how players react with the manager and we only write what we see.' But is all this talk of newspaper influence and power becoming slightly dated? The authority of papers such as The Sun has undoubtedly shrunk in recent years as the numbers of copies being sold has fallen as more and more of us turn to the web for our daily dosage of news. 'The Internet undoubtedly provides newspapers with a serious challenge,' he admits, 'But those who talk of newspapers dying in the next twenty or thirty years ignore the fact that The Sun for instance sells three million copies a day, each copy being read by on average three people, meaning nine million read what we write every day. Yes there is shrinkage, but the fact is people still love reading newspapers. The question is how we can work with the Internet, and how we do it without losing money?'



Tuesday November 24th, 20099



WELCOME TO THE DART SIDE VISION'S MIKE REGAN CHATS TO SPORTING LEGENDS BOBBY GEORGE AND SID WADDELL AND ASKS: WHAT NEXT FOR THE SURPRISINGLY SCANDALOUS GAME OF DARTS? A GLANCE AT the event schedules for some of the country's largest arenas is a sure fire way of gauging the tastes of the nation. It is a concise summary of just what makes the punter part with their hard earned cash to perch uncomfortably, with their heroes just a hazy mirage on the horizon, in arse breaking seats. There are grand-gesturing comedians (Michael Mcintyre), mass popularity talent shows (Strictly Come Dancing), and renowned divas (Whitney Houston). And then there is darts. One of Britain's most simple and popular pub games and 20,000 capacity arenas seem on the surface to be a rather uncomfortable fit. Not only because the wisdom of parting with in excess of £30 to squint at something little over two feet in size, seems a little questionable, but also because an arena environment seems to quash what made darts popular in the first place. Yet there has always been an element of the spectacle about darts, firstly it inherently lacks the professionalism often expected of those who make a living from sport. Yet that is because it is a show, an exhibition, in which the action is not necessarily the key component of the viewing experience. Bobby George is one of the more notable names to have taken to the Oche, yet he does not have a world championship title to his name. His popularity is rooted in his showmanship - 'I felt the game needed a bit of sparkle and razzmatazz. So I wore a medallion'. Whilst wacky celebrations or outlandish hairstyles may make a footballer a cult hero, it is ultimately his ability that defines his popularity. This is where Darts differs and continues to swell its fan-base, because it is not merely a sport, it is a show and a spectacle in the same way that it's arena filling compatriots are. As such darts is remarkably different in character to any other sport. Firstly, to state that darts players are not subject to

the same physical requirements as other top sportsman, may seem like a case of stating the bleeding obvious. However the extent that alcohol consumption plays a role in the game is somewhat surprising. The protruding guts of professionals are evidence in themselves of prolific drinking in between matches. Yet Sid Waddell depicts a game in which boozing and even outright drunkenness are an integral part, 'Even Phil Taylor has two or three pints before going on. Or maybe a couple of double vodkas'. Having paid extortionate amounts to watch dart's events, do supporters not deserve to see the very best competitors at their peak? Then again standing alone in front of thousands of people, with only three glorified pins for company, may warrant a pre-match tipple. A mid game drink is also apparently commonplace in the game, according to Waddell, 'There are drinks marshals who give the players a drink in the break'. Whilst darts' rule book states that 'No alcoholic drink shall be consumed or introduced into public areas during televised match play', it seems that during commercial breaks, off the stage, alcohol consumption is perfectly allowed. In any other sport these would be rather shocking revelations. With darts this is not really the case, neither does it really matter, for darts is a sport that exists primarily to entertain the viewing public. Some of Waddell's tales of on stage inebriation could entertain the most hardened of critics - 'Jockie Wilson played a match drunk, a semi final in 1985. Shook his opponents hand and then fell into a drum kit'. This to me is where darts widespread and long standing appeal lies. Yet perversely the down to earth, no nonsense, intimacy that established darts popularity is under threat by its new found status as an arena phenomenon. According to Bobby George 'There are positives and negatives when you have large audiences. Just like there are in football'. These negatives however seem to


PLENTY OF PINTS: Phil Taylor, a legend of the game. multiply as darts grows in popularity. My revealing conversation with cult commentator Sid Waddell consists primarily of a series of enthralling anecdotes that portray a sport that thrives on the way it relates to the audience. 'In no other sport would you get the world's 8 best players going at it in a nightclub'- and he has a point, the proximity of the audience to the action and the essential part they play in the spectacle of a live darts match is what maintains the popularity of such a seemingly unfashionable pub game. Darts' growing popularity has lead to the usual lucrative television contracts and promotions deals. Darts however is a game blighted by a 20 year rift, described by Bobby George as 'a bad divorce that has been dragged through the courts'. The game is split into two governing bodies; the PDC, boasting Phil Taylor and Raymond Van Barneveld, and the BDO of which Bobby George remains the face. Whilst the PDC dishes out millions of pounds in prize money week on week the BDO represents 'County darts marketed as international darts' according to Wad-

dell. In reality it is a split that epitomises the conundrum darts faces- how to balance its romantic working class roots with money spinning popularity. Waddell puts it down to 'A North-South divide. Bunch of cockneys getting one over on the Northern lads who were at the top of the game'. These 'cockney' heads of the BDO controlled international darts before this acrimonious fall out and the forming of the PDC, a debacle that grew out of the tension between those that 'Just wanted MBE's and trips to South Africa', and the entertainers who play the game for a living. The tension represents the uneasy place in which darts continues to sit on the British sporting landscape. It has achieved mass popularity as a direct result of the intimacy that allows fans direct, personal access to the world's top players. Yet that very quality is in danger of being destroyed as the sport becomes an arena mainstay.


THE WIT AND WISDOM QUIDS INN WITH VISION'S TIPSTERS OF SID WADDELL... “The atmosphere is so tense, if Elvis walked in with a por-



tion of chips, you could hear the vinegar sizzle on them” “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer... Bristow's only 27.”

“The players are under so much duress, it's like duressic park out there!”

The current squeeze of soccer siren Helen Chamberlain, he may be a Carling to her Jonny Walker Black Label, but he is a darting contender.




Taylor will be such an odds on favourite for the title that you would have to bet a bottle of Moet to get a shot of Corky's. It really is hard to see him not making it World Championship number 15.

A man who has perhaps drunk more than most of late. According to Waddell he spent all night in the bath after an abject defeat. A fallen giant of the game, a second PDC title would be a shock.

Described as a darting 'pin up', solely by virtue of being healthy. Klaasen may not be the last to leave the bar but his good form may well see him reach the small hours of the world championship.

Best Sport Contributor Mike Regan (Welcome to the Dart Side)  


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